We can’t create what we can’t imagine

LOOKING BACK

In 2009, our team of 12 outstanding classroom teachers and CTQ’s founder Barnett Berry debated the future of education among ourselves and with some of the greatest thinkers, researchers, and practitioners in education and future studies. Our book, Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools Now and in the Future, (2010) offered practical and controversial options for the direction of education reform.

Emergent Realities

Among the trends we identified was the potential for a new learning ecology for students and teachers. Emily Vickery predicted, “The creation of personalized learning experiences will grow more sophisticated, challenging current and future teachers to redefine what should be learned and what learning is.” Consequently, we advocated for development of more comprehensive and accurate measures of student learning than Carnegie units and standardized tests.

We also hoped for revived interest and investment in community schools as hubs for education and other services.

We vigorously rejected the de-professionalization of teaching, and we criticized how archaic systems stifled teacher creativity and isolated teaching expertise to the detriment especially of our most disadvantaged students. We urged a shifting (as countries with highly successful educational outcomes had already done) to create stable, interlocking teams of expert teachers, generalists and specialists, who work together to serve students and their families. Such teams, anchored by highly accomplished professional teachers, would support and mentor novice teachers, and be supported by a variety of specialists and volunteers.

We envisioned development of career lattices (not ladders) for the teaching profession across which teachers’ expertise could be developed and equitably distributed, allowing teachers to pursue leadership and other hybrid roles, without having to give up teaching.

T2030 teammate, Ariel Sacks, coined the phrase “teacherpreneurs” to capture our vision of “teacher leaders of proven accomplishment, with a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in place to make schools highly successful, and the skills and commitment to share their expertise to others—all the while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom” (137).

We sought to increase the numbers of risk-taking, still-teaching teachers who would be recognized and rewarded for their innovation and commitment to spreading expertise across the profession not just monetarily, but also in terms of policy input and school leadership.

In the book, we identified six “levers of change” (see graphic to right) necessary to move public education into its most promising future:

So, we went to work, as a network and in our respective areas.

LOOKING FORWARD

Recently, some of the T2030 team reflected on our vision and on the prospects for U.S. public education.

Emily Vickery, teaching middle school in Florida, points out numerous red flags that demand attention from those serious about fulfilling the promise of quality public education for all including:

  • School to prison pipeline
  • Lack of opportunity / access to various technologies
  • Threat of no federal support for Net Neutrality

Originally, we saw hope in then new technologies that could offer  unprecedented opportunity to reimagine school. Now, Emily insists that the Open Educational Resources movement (OER) has not taken off as expected; Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are dead; and blended learning, despite all its potential, is mired in poor implementation.

However, she sees reason for hope in the calls for more civics education and grassroots social movements (e.g., #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #NeverAgain), in wearable technology, and in development of projects like Learning Cities.

Happenings since the publication of Teaching 2030 convince Emily even more strongly of the need for teacher leaders to focus on state and local policy, in coalition with students, parents, and communities. 

Ariel Sacks shares that, for the first 3-5 years, she was hopeful, especially working in NYC’s public charters to create new roles for teachers. However, she became less hopeful when she realized teachers were not being paid commensurate with their new responsibilities.

“There’s always a tradeoff for these new teacher roles: salary may be higher, but hours are much longer or benefits are not as good.”

Ariel sees teachers having more input over classroom curriculum than in the past and that more teachers are spreading their expertise through social media. 

Another veteran NYC teacher from the T2030 team, Jose Vilson, co-founder of #EduColor, also has a sobering analysis of current realities.

While Jose agrees there’s been an uptick in the number of positions called teacher leadership, these positions aren’t necessarily transformational.  “We need these people to be real liaisons to the work. Professional development is not advancing, as a result, overbearing administrations are still in charge.”  

Similarly, he’s only seen a few examples of re-defined teacher union work. “Seven out of 10 times they [union leadership] try to edge on what’s safe. The other three out of 10 times, they are the institution, part of the apparatus.”

Science teacher Shannon C’de Baca (Iowa) reflects, “We got a lot of things right [in T2030].  There were two camps: 1) burn it down and start over, or 2) rebuild on what we have. Barnett [Berry] wrote in the book that we needed to get away from the industrial model of schooling. That’s still true. We danced around the systemic change. Now, I don’t know that we have the courage or the political leverage to do systemic change.”

She echoes Ariel and Jose’s observations about new roles for teachers. “We brought teachers who were already leaders, already doing that work, to the surface where we hoped they would get recognized and paid. Fear of teacher leaders as a threat has lessened, but they are still not compensated or rewarded for their expertise or time.”

A pioneer online educator, Shannon, like Emily, has been especially disheartened by the under-fulfilled potential in online learning. “We completely lost it in online education when we monetized it. They’ve gone to teacher-proof curriculum. K12 online is not now a force for good because of what we had to give up to get it funded.”  

However, team member John Holland, art teacher in Richmond and adjunct faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University, still sees reason for hope when digital tools and blended learning are used in ways that respect the vital human connection between students and teachers. Drawing from his own use of innovative blended learning, John observes:

“Why are we STILL so optimistic?”

Despite these gloomy realities, what the 2030 team members remember and value most was the collaboration and the opportunity to insert views from the classroom into the education reform conversation.

What keeps us lifting our voices and fighting for our rightful place in educational leadership is our students: our unflagging commitment to them and their education. John Holland declares:

Since writing Teaching 2030, I have not wavered in my perspective on what matters for students in the future of education. I still believe that a transformed learning ecology is perpetually on the horizon… I still believe that teachers will continue to push the boundaries of their classrooms and their profession through innovation and digital tools. I still believe that differentiated pathways and teacherpreneurs are the way the profession will cross the threshold from missionary work to self-governing profession.

Halfway to 2030, as CTQ prepares to celebrate 20 years of working with teacher leaders to effect quality change in public education, we’re re-visiting this conversation. This roundtable will look beyond the uncertainties of what might lie ahead to how we could respond to emergent issues.

How are you preparing to respond to what is next for public schools? What do you think might be keys to scaling up the bright spots being created (maybe you’re part of one of these!) to build a new kind of future for education?

We want to hear from you.


Renee’s post is part of a roundtable blogging discussion exploring the future of education. We want to hear your thoughts! Join the conversation by commenting on and sharing this blog and by reading the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to join the discussion on social media.